Campus Life

New traditions, 3,600 degrees and countless smiles

Thousands of students graduated from the University of Florida this weekend at a historic celebration that featured the first university-wide commencement ceremony at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in nearly half a century.

Rock legend Stephen Stills, who spent much of his youth in Gainesville and has strong ties to UF, was the guest speaker at a stage gracing the 50-yard line in a ceremony full of pageantry, pomp and live music by the University Concert Choir and UF Wind Symphony.

Cloudy skies and a few drops of rain did nothing to dampen the spirits of more than 1,000 graduates on the field and their beaming families, friends and loved ones in the stands.

The weekend’s events marked both a return to tradition and a new chapter in UF’s graduation history. In addition to returning to the tradition of all graduates joining together to receive their degrees, each of UF’s colleges for the first time held its own celebration at which each student was individually recognized with his or her dean and faculty, family and friends.

A Gator fan since he was a second-grader at J.J. Finley Elementary in Gainesville in the 1950s, Stills on Friday saw his dream of becoming a Florida Gator come true. The two-time Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer and Songwriters Hall of Fame member was named an honorary doctor of music at Friday’s doctoral ceremony. He was further honored Saturday when the University Concert Choir performed one of his famous songs, “Helplessly Hoping.”

The former member of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who attended Gainesville High School – and whose name graces a room where the UF marching band rehearses – offered graduates several bits of wisdom.

“If you have had in mind a certain calling, one that might require postgraduate study, or have been recruited for a top-level job, run with it,” he said. “But if you are not yet sure of what you intend to do, at some point, while it’s still fresh in your mind, make some time to rest in solitude and reflect upon the entire course of study you have just completed. How it unfolded from start to finish.” 

Immediately after the ceremony, he took time to greet and take photos with the students in the choir.

>>To view/read this speech, click here.


Saturday’s faculty speaker, College of the Arts Dean Onye Ozuzu, referenced one of Stills’ best-known compositions, “For What It’s Worth,” calling it “an anthem that connects us.”

Ozuzu urged the graduates to remember all the connections they have forged on campus, even the person you may just have smiled to, sitting at the end of the row.

“What you have accomplished is complete - and yet it is just beginning,” Ozuzu said, “and it is just that, the not knowing, that is the power of receptivity to opportunity.”

Sending off the graduates at the ceremony’s end, UF President Kent Fuchs recited the classic Irish blessing that includes the line “May the sun shine warm upon your face.” As if on cue, the clouds parted just enough for the sun to break through.

All told, 3,643 UF students earned their diplomas this December. They included students from 45 states and 73 countries, 296 first-generation college students, 481 students who join other Gator graduates in their families and 193 UF Online students. The youngest graduate was 19; the oldest, 65. 

>>To view/read this speech, click here.


In a rousing speech at Friday’s doctoral commencement at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, renowned educator and researcher Thomasenia Lott Adams, professor of mathematics education and associate dean for research and faculty development in UF’s College of Education, told graduates to be heroes.

“You are here today because you have charged forth on a mission,” she said. “You pushed beyond the limits, believed in your boundless potential, and rose above the fear. The road was not always easy, the path not always clear, but here you emerge. You will leave the campus of the University of Florida changed, transformed, strong. How will you use what you have learned at UF to change circumstances for someone? How will you create a chance for someone else to succeed?”

>>To view/read this speech, click here.

Over graduation weekend, individual recognition ceremonies celebrated students in more intimate ways.

Many colleges created ceremonies around the culture of their fields of study, such as the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering’s Order of the Engineer Ceremony, during which graduates reach through a ceremonial ring and shake hands with a member of the order.

Doing the honors was Josh Walden, corporate vice president and general manager of the Platform Engineering Group, who leads numerous worldwide engineering teams that are responsible for the development, manufacturing and validation of Intel's chip portfolio. Walden graduated in 1982.

At the College of Design, Construction and Planning ceremony, held at the iconic University Auditorium Dean Chimay Anumba welcomed everyone to start the proceedings and thanked them for coming to celebrate with the DCP family.

He then introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Paul Zwick, who is a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and is retiring this spring.

“My hope for the each of the graduates is that they experience good success, good fortune and an exciting career,” Zwick stated.

The next speaker was Fall 2018 graduate Kyle Larsen, who received his bachelor’s degree in construction management. Larsen served as a DCP Ambassador and as President and Secretary of the Construction Management Association of America.

Larsen urged his fellow graduates to always appreciate the feelings in their lives when they find bliss, to savor those moments.

“Learn from the past. Live in the moment. Plan for the Future. Design it. Build it. Sustain it,” Larsen said. “And when it arrives in the present along with that feeling, say the only two words ever needed: thank you.”

For more pictures from DCP's ceremony, click here:

Over 50 College of the Arts graduates celebrated the completion of their degree programs at the college’s recognition ceremony in the University Auditorium. Dean Onye Ozuzu presided over the ceremony, welcoming Assistant Professor of Dance Trent D. Williams Jr. to provide faculty remarks and McKenna Nelson, who received her Bachelor of Music, to present the student keynote. Nelson was selected by her fellow graduates to speak at the ceremony. 

Each student was recognized individually by name and degree program, and master’s students were hooded by their faculty members. School of Music alumna Hye Jin Park performed on the auditorium’s organ during the processional, hooding of master’s students, and recessional.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Recognition Ceremony featured a student speaker, alumni speaker, and remarks from Associate Dean Joe Spillane and Dean David Richardson. From among those graduates, each degree program was led by a “Lead Major,” a graduating student of distinction who was selected by their Undergraduate Coordinator to lead their peers in the student processional onto the arena floor. These Lead Majors were then the first name to be read from their major as the graduates crossed the stage to be individually recognized. The platform party included a chair, director, or representative from each degree program, who shook the hand of each of their program’s graduates as they crossed. Dean Richardson also shook the hand of each graduate who was recognized before they exited the stage.

The student speaker was Lissa Khoshbakhti, who graduated with Honors from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a focus in Film and Media Studies and a minor in Mass Communications. As a student, Lissa was involved in the Reitz Programming Board, Theatre Strike Force's Sketch Comedy Team, and the University Film Society. Off campus, Lissa interned at CNN, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and Late Night with Seth Meyers. She’s planning to move to New York City in the spring, and pursue a career in Film and Television.

The alumni speaker was Joan Forrest (’77), who earned her bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. Today, she serves as President of the St. Petersburg-based Dawson Academic, a postgraduate educational and clinical research facility, dedicated to the advancement of dentistry. Ms. Forrest also currently serves as Chair of the Dean’s Leadership Council. She is a past recipient of the Outstanding Female Leadership Award from the University of Florida and is a member of the University’s Hall of Fame.

Dean Richardson’s remarks focused on liberal arts education, its history and mission to study and teach about nature, society, and humanity.

Student singer Julia Duca (School of Music, College of the Arts) opened the ceremony with the singing of the national anthem and concluded the ceremony by leading everyone in the alma mater. Julia was accompanied by the Gainesville Brass Quintet during the alma mater, and the quintet also played during the student and platform party processionals and the platform party recessional. The webcast of the ceremony can be viewed here.

Graduating UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences students were highlighted on CALS social media accounts the week of graduation. Prior to the student recognition ceremony processional, students were invited to share what exciting jobs, careers, and adventures await them after their graduation. Some of the responses included: working for Disney’s horticulture unit at the 2019 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival, becoming a “Croc Doc,” teaching English in Spain, conducting mosquito research, going to law school and graduate school, becoming an ecological field technician, operations management associate at Cargill, Washington, D.C. bound, teaching, traveling Europe, going to nursing school, and more.

The Gainesville Brass Quintet played the ceremony prelude and student processional music as the graduating students entered into the Exactech Arena of the Stephen C. O’Connell Center for the CALS student recognition ceremony on Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m. Holton’s Highlanders played the music for the platform party processional. Environmental science graduating senior Ashleigh Elkins led the processional with the CALS graduation banner. Animal sciences graduating senior Alejandro Forero sang the national anthem and the alma mater. Christine Krebs, a wildlife ecology and conservation graduating senior, gave the student address. Biology graduating senior Jonathan Novak was honored as a recipient of the Emelie L. Matthews Award of Excellence, an award presented to an outstanding senior in the college of came to UF as a transfer student. UF/IFAS faculty members Kimberly Moore and Monika Oli were recognized as 2018 USDA-NIFA teaching award recipients, and their students were invited to stand for recognition. Nearly 400 CALS students graduated with their bachelor’s and master’s degrees during the fall 2018 semester.

More photos from the CALS ceremonies are available:

Student Recognition Ceremony –

Ph.D. Ceremony –

UF College of Journalism and Communications Dean Diane McFarlin welcomed graduates, their family and friends to the College’s Fall 2018 Graduate Recognition Ceremony. “We are excited to have this opportunity to celebrate graduates of what we think is the best communications college in the world.”

Dean McFarlin recognized Stanley Schwartz, B.S. Advertising 1962, who was honored earlier as a UF Distinguished Alumnus.

Public Relations Graduate Eugenia Blaubach Jimenez delivered the commencement address, and focused on the future endeavors of the storytelling graduates “so every story we tell, or don’t tell, matters. As graduates of this college, we share the awesome responsibility of crafting the next generation of stories. I invite you to paint more representative picture of our world.”

CJC alumna Gale King, B.S. Journalism 1983 and 2016 Hall of Fame member, also spoke to graduates at the ceremony, offering, “Believe in you and the difference you can make in the world.”

The ceremony concluded with singing a rousing edition of the UF Alma Mater.

The College of Health & Human Performance recognized 34 master’s and 105 bachelor’s degree recipients in the historic Florida Gym.

Dean Michael Reid presided over the ceremony and acknowledged the parents and families that have sacrificed to get their graduate to this day. He also touched on the significance of hosting the graduation in the Florida Gym, site of previous commencements, visits by dignitaries like a then Senator John F. Kennedy, and the site of concerts featuring Ray Charles, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder and the Johnny Cash Family, to name a few.

Dr. Jill Varnes, UF alumna, former HHP dean and professor, provided an address that encouraged graduates to make sure every day counts and to go after their future with passion.

“Whatever goal you set, it is best accomplished with a sense of optimism and a positive outlook,” said Varnes. “On a regular basis, we should question if what we are doing is contributing to our own happiness and that of those that we care about.”

Evelyn Maria Veras Cedeño, BS HE ’18, was selected as the graduate speaker and spoke to her peers about equity and opportunity.

“When life opens up doors for you and you get through one, make sure that it’s big enough to bring two or three people with you,” said Veras. “Success should be when all people are able to obtain a seat at the table.”

Photos and video of the ceremony can be found online at

Graduates from UF’s Colleges of Pharmacy, Nursing and Public Health and Health Professions concluded their studies at the Health Science Center Recognition Ceremony in the University Auditorium on Dec. 14.

The first-of-its-kind ceremony saw graduates of the three colleges come together to receive individual recognition, as their names were read aloud and they walked across the stage to greet their respective deans. Various programs were represented, including bachelor’s of science degree graduates in nursing; master’s of science degree graduates in pharmacy; master’s degree graduates of public health and occupational therapy; and Ph.D. graduates in communications sciences and disorders.

Dave Nelson, M.D., interim president of UF Health, delivered the commencement speech, in which he encouraged graduates to be the best caregivers they can be and to think of their careers as more than just a job.

Members of the EduGator community gathered at the Reitz Union Grand Ballroom for the UF College of Education Recognition Ceremony to celebrate the college’s most recent graduates. Students and their guests were welcomed by Dean Glenn Good, followed by messages of inspiration from student speaker, Lauren Schuessler (M.Ed. ‘18) and college alumna, Jayne Ellspermann (M.Ed. ‘84). Schuessler reminded graduates to, “help to create bigger, brighter tomorrows for others and be limitless in your pursuit of the things that ignite your soul…”

Ellspermann, the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ 2015 Principal of the Year, thanked the graduates for choosing to be the best versions of themselves, calling them the, “future of education.” After attendees joined in signing the Alma Mater and the ceremony came to an end, graduates lingered for photos among college backdrops and the education gonfalon with their families, friends and college faculty.

The Warrington College of Business held its fall Graduate Recognition Ceremony on December 16 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. More than 340 graduates were recognized for the completion of either their undergraduate, master’s or doctoral degree in subjects like accounting, marketing, information systems and operations management and more.

Dean John Kraft presided over the ceremony featuring alumni remarks by Nathan S. Collier (BSBA ’74, MBA ’78, JD ’82), founder and chairman of The Collier Companies and namesake of the Nathan S. Collier Master of Science in Real Estate program, music by the Gainesville Brass Quintet, presentation of the national anthem by UF College of the Arts student Julia Duca and the Alma Mater by Poe Business Ethics Center Director Dr. Brian Ray. Collier shared with students some of his top leverage points for life, urging them to make plans, reflect through journaling and continually learn. “You are the CEO of your life,” he said.

This story will be updated with more colleges’ commencement coverage.

To view webcasts of the ceremonies, visit links on this page:


Margot Winick Author
December 17, 2018